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Dublin: 12 °C Sunday 15 September, 2019

'The lads were saying before, if we lose, the Cork boys are getting the blame'

Kevin Long’s goal helped Ireland overcome the Bulgarians at the Aviva.

Ireland's Kevin Long celebrates scoring his side's second goal with John Egan and James Collins.
Ireland's Kevin Long celebrates scoring his side's second goal with John Egan and James Collins.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

THERE WAS A distinctly Corkonian feel to Ireland’s starting XI last night, with John Egan, Conor Hourihane, Alan Browne and Kevin Long all part of the side.

And both Browne and Long managed to get on the scoresheet, as the Boys in Green deservedly beat Bulgaria 3-1.

“The lads were saying before if we lose, the Cork boys are getting the blame, because there were that many of us,” Long joked afterwards.

“It was a proud moment for Cork. There were four of us playing tonight, it’s a great achievement and hopefully we can kick on and go forward and play a few more games.”

It was a Dubliner, however, who was pivotal in creating Long’s goal to restore Ireland’s second-half lead. A well-executed corner from Shamrock Rovers man Jack Byrne allowed the defender to head powerfully home.

“Jack put in a great delivery, as I know he can do, and to be fair, it just landed on my head.

“I had one cleared off the line on my competitive debut [against Austria in June 2017], so I was a bit gutted about that.

“But it’s a proud moment, obviously, scoring for your country and winning the game.”

Long may only have 12 caps to his name, but he was still one of the most experienced Irish stars on show, with five players — Byrne, Mark Travers, Kieran O’Hara, Josh Cullen and James Collins — making their debuts.

“All the lads who made their debuts tonight, they came in and showed what they’re doing at club level, and that’s why they’re here.

“They didn’t show any fear, they wanted to get on the ball and play forward passes. You could see the likes of Josh and Jack, they did that.”

With the same backline playing every competitive minute of the campaign so far, Long is unlikely to displace Richard Keogh or Shane Duffy at the heart of the defence for the next month’s crucial qualifiers.

Nonetheless, the 29-year-old Burnley centre-back certainly did himself no harm with last night’s performance, which suggested he can be relied upon if needed.

I can only come in and do as well as I can. I always give it my all playing for my club and my country and if the manager wants to pick me, he knows I’ll be able to do a job.

“But the two lads have been fantastic so far, they haven’t put a foot wrong, so I can only put a marker down and it’s up to the manager to see what he does.”

With the warm-up games out of the way, Murray, Bernard and Gavan discuss the renewed cause for optimism, impressive individual player form, and a potential quarter-final versus either South Africa or New Zealand.

Source: The42 Rugby Weekly/SoundCloud

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Paul Fennessy

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